The Walt Disney version was not the first take on the Snow White story, nor was it the last – but it's certainly the best known. Well, Mirror Mirror takes the tale and twists it in a way that would probably have good old Walt spinning in his grave.
OK, it's not quite reinventing the wheel. The basic story structure created all those years ago by the Grimm brothers is still there: evil Queen wants to be rid of her stepdaughter, Snow White (Collins); but instead of being killed, Snow is left in the forest where she meets seven somewhat naughty dwarves and a handsome, but bumbling, prince. So yes, not quite the classic Disney version that we all know and love. But with this version, the real star of the show is the Queen, played with pantomime relish by Roberts.
Yes, in a surprising twist – probably the first time since Erin Brokovich – this reviewer actually ENJOYED Julia Roberts in a film. She rules over the kingdom alone – the king (Sean Bean) having disappeared some years earlier while off on a quest – and taxes the poor peasants to within an inch of their lives to enjoy her lavish lifestyle. But with the kingdom facing bankruptcy, the Queen decides she must marry the visiting Prince of Valencia (Hammer) and merge their kingdoms. Of course, the spanner in the works is that the Prince and Show White have already met, during a sneaky trip to the town that she took without the Queen's knowledge – and the Princes only has eyes for Snow. INto the mix, too, come those seven dwarves – but here they're a band of bandits, a la Robin Hood, rather than a friendly bunch of diamond miners.
It's all got a fresh, modern look and feel to it. The costumes and sets are sumptuous, the dialogue sharp and witty ... and even, on occasions, somewhat cynical, with some clever digs at the source material. Director Singh is well known for his visually spectacular films – The Fall, The Cell and last year's (awful) Immortals – and here he's hit it out of the park. Apart from Roberts, who steals pretty much every scene she's in (yes, even those with panto-king Lane), both Collins and Hammer give solid, worthy performances. As well as being a very pretty face, Collins – the daughter of drummer Phil – imbues Snow White with charm and spirit. She also gets to kick some butt in the latter part of the film, another twist that would probably have the Disney fanatics tutt-tutting in the balcony. As the charming Prince Alcott, Hammer is more than adequate, although he does remind somewhat of a younger, slimmer Brendan Fraser. And in a pleasant surprise, the dwarves – with the wonderful names Napoleon, Half Pint, Grub, Grimm, Wolf, Butcher and Chuckles – are all played by genuine little people, not big-name actors shrunk down via CGI.
There's plenty in Mirror Mirror for both young and old to enjoy if you're happy to go along with an open mind and be prepared for a different look at a very, very well-known tale.
SECOND OPINION | Sarah Sharp ★★★★½ Looks can be deceiving – that's the lesson we can always take from the story of Snow White. It certainly turned out to be the case for this latest screen incarnation. The poster offered no wow factor, and things starring Julia Roberts tend to go either way. My expectations, if not low, were certainly indifferent – plus there were children all over the screening, so I was grumpy.
Well thank heavens for second chances. Far from the saccharine schmaltz I was dreading, Mirror Mirror turned out to perfectly penned piece of ironic chic. This is fast, funny and feisty: more Princess Bride than Disney Princess. Collins dazzles, Ms Roberts is splendid, and – horror of horrors – I found I did actually fancy the pants off Hammer (regrettably the one garment he managed not to lose throughout the film). Meanwhile, the dwarves will charm you with their criminal camaraderie.
Ignore the posters, ignore your gut instinct, ignore the children milling at your feet. Kick the little blighters out of the way and make sure you get a good seat. This cinematic treat has the makings of a classic.